By comand on Sep 30, 2004
I spent some time last night second-guessing my decision to go with a Socket 939 solution instead of a Socket 754. The AMD64 processor line has an on-die memory controller, like the UltraSPARC-III and later processors. Socket 754 was the first to be introduced, with a single channel DDR controller, while earlier this year saw the first 939 processors and boards with dual-channel DDRCs. According to most reviews, the difference is not that large - a best case 3-5% performance improvement. However, there is a third AMD64 socket type - 940, which is used today by the Athlon FX series of processors and the server based Opteron chips. The plan is to migrate the FX series from 940 to 939, leaving the Opteron in the server space. The Athlon 64/64FX processors will all unified in the Socket 939 spec, targeted at workstations and enthusiasts. Socket 754 won't go away, as AMD will target this at the main-stream desktop market. The Sempron and Socket A will continue to serve the budget desktop market.
As Socket 939 is a relatively new introduction, processors and motherboards are still expensive. Most of the forum posts I've read on the topic suggest that the price/performance for Socket 939 just isn't there. Of course, most of these posts were from the start of this summer, and since then the price of an AMD64 3500+ has fallen from ~US$500 to ~US$330. The nearest Socket 754 chip comparable to a 3500+ is a 3400+, which comes in at ~US$290. The price difference of ~US$40 seems like a small amount to spend to get a better upgrade path, once AMD starts introducing dual-core processors (assuming that won't be another DDRC change requiring yet another socket change). I finally convinced myself that 939 was the way to go. Case 50% closed.
The other side of the equation is the motherboard. Socket 939 motherboards are also relatively inexpensive, compared to what I have spent in the past to upgrade my system. The MSI board listed in my last AMD Upgrade post is ~US$140, while some of the Socket 754 boards with similar functionality come in ~US$120. The difficult choice here was between the NVidia nForce3 250Gb chipset and the VIA K8T800. Every non-forum review of these two chipsets I have read concludes that both are equal. Anecdotal evidence from forums seems to suggest that nForce is more stable than VIA, but I've been using ABit boards based on VIA chipsets for years without stability issues. One of my chief concerns is support for the chipset in non-Windows environments like Linux and Solaris x86_64. VIA has generic drivers in the Linux kernel, so basic functionality can be had without having to resort to separate drivers. Functionality of nF3 based boards in Windows surpasses that of VIA, but it requires NVidia's proprietary drivers to operate in Linux. At this point, I'm not sure if either chipset is supported in Solaris.
My decision is now down to the final sticking point. Should I go with the VIA, and spare some of the performance and stability for driverless support under Linux? Or should I go with the nForce3 board, get superior Windows performance for games, and live with the fact that I will, yet again, be out on the cold, harsh, bleeding edge of technology.
If it were'nt for the fact that Newegg.com has been down for the last 12-14 hours, I probably would have already made the decision. The extra time I have to mull over the issue is certainly causing me to overthink. I can hardly believe that a site like Newegg.com, which is absolutely critical to their business (it is their business), is down for this length of time. Even a planned outage for the revenue producing face of this company should not even be noticed by the users, much less interrupt purchases and prevent new ones from accessing the store.
Maybe it would be a good idea for the Sun sales force to descend on Newegg and show them how e-business is really supposed to work.